Operation Swill

Have you ever taken a sip of a drink and thought “Wow. That tastes like dirty water”? Some New Jersey bar and restaurant patrons have.


Code-named “Operation Swill,” the New Jersey AG Office’s Division of Alcohol Beverage Control conducted a year-long investigation into 63 alcohol-serving locations around the glorious Garden State. What prompted the investigation? Authorities were tipped off that certain establishments were serving alcohols of a lower quality to patrons that were ordering premium liquor. Unfortunately, the grossest part is that sometimes, they weren’t even substituting real liquor. It is believed that in one situation, the bar subbed in rubbing alcohol with caramel coloring for someone who ordered whiskey. Another time, they added in dirty water – referred to as “river water” by some officials.


Out of the 63 establishments that were investigated, 29 were allegedly engaging in the sketchy drinking-making. Out of the 29 offenders, 13 were TGI Fridays restaurants, all run by the same franchisee.

They figured this out because samples were taken from each location (undercover, of course) and then tested using a new system called the True Spirit Authenticator. The ones that failed were sent to 20 premium liquor manufacturers who use gas chromatography to verify that the liquors were imposters.


So, how can you tell if the drink in your hand is not what you actually ordered? If something tastes “off” about it, don’t be afraid to tell the bartender and ask for a new one – watch them this time, if you can. Beyond that, it can be hard to tell the difference or prove you’ve been duped. Just remember that most bartenders are honest, so if you’re ordering a premium liquor, you’re probably getting it (unless you’re in New Jersey).